American Medical Association Comes Out in Favor of House Bill
In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of the three committee leaders who developed the bill, AMA CEO Michael Maves wrote that on behalf of the group's board of trustees, "I am writing to express our appreciation and support for" the bill.
Maves added, "We pledge to work with the House committees and leadership to build support for passage of health reform legislation to expand access to high quality, affordable health care for all Americans."
According to Politico, President Obama and officials in his administration were "thrilled" with the endorsement after the "tough questions" he faced following his address to the physicians' group last month (Allen, Politico, 7/16).
The Hill reports that the House bill includes AMA's top priority of fixing the Medicare payment system, which annually calls for physicians' reimbursement rates to be lowered. According to The Hill, AMA is unlikely to endorse a Senate reform bill because Senate Finance Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee reform proposals do not include such a fix (Young, The Hill, 7/16).
AMA's endorsement is slightly surprising because of the House bill's inclusion of a public insurance plan option, which has become the "most controversial" aspect of the bill for AMA and prompted some of its members to compare it to communism, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports (Tanner, AP/Los Angeles Times, 7/16).
After Obama's address last month, AMA said that it would oppose any public plan. However, the group later clarified its statement and said that it "is willing to consider other variations of a public plan" (Hunt et al., CongressDaily, 7/17).
AMA President J. James Rohack noted that the endorsement should not be misconstrued as a sign that the group is shifting its political stance. "It's not blue or red, or Democratic or Republican. This is something that is the AMA's core values," he said (AP/Los Angeles Times, 7/16).
According to The Hill, AMA and the American Nurses Association -- which supported the Senate HELP Committee's reform bill -- are the only two health care interest groups that have endorsed any reform legislation.
The Hill reports that many industry groups "may indefinitely stay on the sidelines." According to The Hill, Democrats have largely "postponed the kind of anti-health care reform onslaught from interest groups that played a key role in crushing" the Clinton administration's effort in the 1990s (The Hill, 7/16).
Obama, Dingell Respond
Obama applauded AMA for its endorsement. He said that "these doctors are joining the chorus of Americans who know that the time to reform what is broken about the health care system is now" (The Hill, 7/16). Â
In a statement, Obama wrote, "I am grateful that the doctors of the AMA have chosen to support health insurance reform that will lower costs, expand coverage, and assure choice and quality health care for all Americans" (CongressDaily, 7/17).
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the bill's main sponsor, said that "AMA's support should not be underestimated," adding, "Quite honestly, it has been difficult to win the support of this organization going all the way back to the 1930s" (The Hill, 7/16).
In a letter to other U.S. physician groups on Thursday, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) wrote, "The American Medical Association's announced support for a new, government-run bureaucracy in health care fails to achieve any of the reforms patients and doctors desperately need," adding, "As a former physician, I encourage you to reach out to your state medical associations to let them know that you oppose a government takeover of health care and comparative effectiveness research denials based solely on cost."
Meanwhile, physician groups in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., began circulating a draft letter opposing AMA's endorsement of the bill's public plan option proposal.
The groups called the AMA endorsement "inconsistent with quality medical care and the principles of freedom and liberty that lie at the heart of our form of government and our society."
A draft of the letter has been sent to other state medical organizations, and a final version is expected to be sent to lawmakers on Tuesday (CongressDaily, 7/17).
Shortly after AMA announced its endorsement of the House reform bill, America's Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Karen Ignagni issued an eight-page letter to members of the three House committees that developed the House bill reiterating the group's concerns with the bill.
Ignagni noted that AHIP continues to support the push for health care reform, but "oppose[s] the creation of a new government-run health insurance plan."The House bill would "cause millions of patients to lose their current coverage, dismantle the employer-based health care system, put at risk hospitals nationwide and exacerbate the nation's long-term fiscal crisis," she wrote (Ackley, Roll Call, 7/16). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.